Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive Dissonance

In the article, Tactical Voting and Party Preferences: A Test of Cognitive Dissonance Theory, Jorgen Bolstad, Elias Dinas, and Pedro Riera states that the idea behind the cognitive dissonance theory “is that when attitudes are not consistent with actual behavior, a certain degree of discomfort will arise, driving people to change their attitudes to reduce the inconsistency” (Bolstad et al., 2013). In Cognitive Dissonance Theory and the Induced Compliance Paradigm: Concerns for Teaching Religious Studies, Charlene P.E. Burns elaborates on this theory by stating that learners will seek consonance between his/her thoughts and behaviors. When a credible new cognition or behavior challenges an existing belief or mind-set, the learner experiences psychological tension (dissonance). Burns states that Dissonance can be looked at as the same idea as “pain,” where it warns us that something is psychologically inconsistent and that we continue to make sure the world is “true” to our beliefs (Burns, 2006).

Why us it

Burns states that cognitive dissonance is powerful and crucial in the learning process and that the instructor teaching a subject could be beneficial or damaging by revealing his/her own “personal equation” in the classroom. This is because the internal conflict that is aroused can be destructive to cognitive development when the dissonance is too high (Burns, 2006). The dissonance in only those who have strong beliefs in a certain subject, in this case, religion, would only increase if they were presented contradictive information in regards to their religion.

Examples of application

In the religious studies article, Burns demonstrates how people who are strongly dedicated to their religion would only become even stronger believers if they were presented information that contradicted their religion. On the contrary, those who were not as dedicated to their religion did not change and their beliefs stayed the same.


Burns, C. E. (2006). Cognitive Dissonance Theory and the Induced-Compliance Paradigm: Concerns for Teaching Religious Studies. Teaching Theology & Religion, 9(1), 3-8. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9647.2006.00255.x

Bølstad, J., Dinas, E., & Riera, P. (2013). Tactical Voting and Party Preferences: A Test of Cognitive Dissonance Theory. Political Behavior, 35(3), 429-452. doi:10.1007/s11109-012-9205-1